CHRIS: Hoop Dreams (James, 1994, US)

“What’s so fascinating about standing around watching a group of pituitary cases?”

Annie Hall (1977)

This film will always be associated with shame for me. Christmas Eve 1998, I got really drunk in the afternoon and came home and fell asleep in the early evening. There was loads to do, including wrapping presents, so I wasn’t popular in the house. I sobered up around four in the morning so decided to get out of bed and make up for lost time to sort out the wrapping etc. (spoiler alert, Santa didn’t exist then).

I decided to put something on to keep me awake. HOOP DREAMS was bought as a package with WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996) and the two films sat on the shelf, unwatched, for a while. I am not a great fan of sports. The only sport I have ever been interested in is boxing, I’ve long held the view that it is the purest sport and all other games are merely sublimated forms of fighting. WHEN WE WERE KINGS is a great documentary about the Ali’s Rumble in The Jungle bout against George Foreman and his famous ‘rope a dope’ come back, and the film is a group of talking heads discussing its lasting cultural significance.

HOOP DREAMS is very different, as it is not about history, it is the real-time document of William Gates and Arthur Agee who are picked out from the Chicago ghetto by basket ball talent scouts and offered a dream ticket to professional status, and all that it brings. The film follows their development through the college system over five years. HOOP DREAMS is not really about sport at all, its a social document about America in the late 20th century, dealing with issues of race, class, economic deprivation and the American Dream.

Woody Allen when writing about his love of sport, says that he will always prefer it to art because when it comes to a match, no one know how it is going to conclude. There is drama in sport that is hard to replicate in film. HOOP DREAMS comes close to achieving this level of drama,  by dealing with the struggles that the two young men face in such a way that it appears to be unfolding in front of you. The fate of the William and Arthur are uncertain as they have to overcome injury, lack of money, family issues and the loss of belief in themselves along the way. Completely absorbing.

I didn’t wrap any presents.

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